One of the most important lessons fourth-year student and aspiring lawyer, Helen Sofia Pahou, has learned at SFU is to “always lean into new experiences.” This realization drove the political science major and double minor in international studies and legal studies to sign up for SFU’s Co-operative Education (co-op) program.
After completing three co-op work terms, she has developed practical skills and gained knowledge that will be invaluable to her in her future career. More importantly, her co-op experiences have helped her to discover the importance of bridging understanding and sensitivity among differences.
Pahou completed her first co-op position in August 2020. She worked as a digital media projects assistant and research assistant for SFU’s Work Integrated Learning (WIL) unit. Specifically, her role focused on creating infographics and investigating global citizenship resources for WIL’s Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) curriculum.
“I knew nothing about equity, diversity and inclusion before my practicum, but I was ready to learn,” says Pahou. “You have to allow yourself to be uncomfortable and vulnerable to understand other people’s vulnerabilities.”
Her EDI co-op experience at WIL helped her to land her next two co-op positions. The first began in September 2020 with the Downtown Surrey Business Improvement Association (DSBIA) where she was hired as a diversity intern. As a woman of colour and a downtown Surrey resident herself, Pahou felt personally invested in this job.
“I’m very proud to have worked for an organization in my community that is continually discovering the positivity of being a diverse region,” she says.
Her proudest co-op moment came during this role, too, when she worked as an event planner on the DSBIA’s Zoom series called, “Community Conversations”. The Zoom series was a vantage point to further discourses on some of Surrey’s largest social issues. Moreover, the series also became a point of collaboration with local non-profit organizations and educators.
“We looked into the social and racial barriers immigrants face, houselessness in the lower mainland, the accessibility of education for BIPOC and 2SLGBTQ+ youth during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the importance of recognizing the impact of Indigenous Social Innovation labs that rebuild strength and resiliency among Indigenous communities,” says Pahou.
In February 2021, Pahou began her final co-op work term as a student analyst with Employment Social Development Canada. Specifically, she worked with Service Canada’s Strategic Services branch. In this position, which just wrapped up at the end of April, she assisted a team of analysts in examining the impact of certain socioeconomic policies on marginalized communities. She also participated in numerous workshops where she was able to build on ideas, projects, and toolkits to further EDI within the Canadian Public Service. She found it helpful that she was also taking Professor Laurel Weldon’s POL 350 course, Public Policy for Women, while she was completing this co-op work term.
“I was able to tie in the broad general knowledge of women’s public policy into my co-op,” says Pahou. “It was great to learn from other analysts in the department who were investigating the impact of socioeconomic policies on women.”
Pahou also analyzed data in a hands-on way during this co-op work term, which she had prepared for by taking POL 201, Introductory Quantitative Methods in Political Science. She went further than just analysis though, learning to code with the data programming language, Python.
“I gained lots of practical and technical skills that I will use for the rest of my life in any other career that I should do,” she says.
When looking back on her co-op experiences, Pahou says they have made her feel more confident as she thinks about applying for jobs after graduation. Moreover, her co-op work terms have also made her feel more inclined to find ways of making positive changes—including in academia.
This summer, she joined SFU’s Career and Volunteer Services as a social policy researcher to conduct more EDI-based research. She will also be part of the political science honours cohort in 2021/22 and will continue to study EDI and politics. However, above all, she advises other students to take co-op.
“I highly recommend that students take co-op if they’re feeling lost and need further guidance on what their future could look like,” she says. “Gaining work experience truly sets you up for future success.”
This story was originally published on the Political Science website on July 27, 2021.